Video: I Discuss Resistance and Creativity at Guantánamo and the Plight of Former Prisoners with Mansoor Adayfi

16.12.21

A screenshot of “Life After Guantánamo,” an online discussion between Andy Worthington and former prisoner Mansoor Adayfi, hosted by the Justice for Muslims Collective, which took place on December 9, 2021.

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Last week, I was delighted to take part in “Life After Guantánamo,” an online discussion with former prisoner Mansoor Adayfi, hosted by the Justice for Muslims Collective, which was also intended to raise funds for Mansoor, who, like the majority of former prisoners, remains haunted by the unjustifiable “taint” of Guantánamo, preventing them from getting paid work and supporting themselves.

The fundraising page is here, on Facebook, if you’re able to make a donation, although it closes in two days’ time. To date, around $5,700 has been raised towards the target of $20,000 — to cover Mansoor’s medical care, tuition fees and his work as a writer and advocate for Guantánamo’s closure.

The event, introduced by Maha Hilal, lasted for just over an hour, and the video of it is here. I’ve also embedded it below.

Mansoor is the author, with Antonio Aiello, of the justifiably acclaimed memoir, Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo, which was published in August, and I was pleased to finally have the opportunity to talk with him about aspects of his narrative, covering the 14 years he spent in Guantánamo before his resettlement in Serbia in 2016, as well as discussing the plight of prisoners following their release.

I particularly wanted to highlight Mansoor’s resistance to the injustice of Guantánamo, which he and other prisoners — mainly young, and mainly Yemenis — undertook over many years, causing as much disruption as possible, through hunger strikes, and through persistent non-compliance. This led to regular punishment, via violent beatings and prolonged isolation, but what Mansoor’s account made clear was that this group of around twelve men — described as “red-eyes” — included at least five men who paid for their resistance with their lives: Yasser al-Zahrani, Ali al-Salami and Mani al-Utaybi, who died in June 2006, Muhammad Salih, who died in June 2009, and Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, who died in September 2012.

The deaths of these five men were described by the authorities as suicides, but that assessment has been robustly challenged over the years, particularly by Staff Sgt. Joseph Hickman, who was on duty on the night of the June 2006 deaths, and who doubts the official narrative, and by the independent researcher Jeffrey Kaye, and I thought it was important to get Mansoor’s perspective on the unreliability of the official narrative regarding the deaths of his friends.

I also asked Mansoor to talk about the only time that creative expression flowered at Guantánamo, after Barack Obama became president, when, for a brief period, the prisoners living communally in Camp 6 (who, by that time, included Mansoor) were allowed art classes, and ended up prolifically turning the prison block into a living art gallery. We also discussed how two of those artists, Moath al-Alwi, who creates extraordinary ships out of recycled materials, and Khalid Qassim, one of Mansoor’s closest friends, are still held, amongst the 14 remaining “forever prisoners” (out of 39 men in total who are still held) who have never been approved for release, despite never being charged with a crime or put on trial. (Of the other 25 men, 12 have been charged or have been through the military commission trial process, while 13 others, including Mansoor’s mentor at Guantánamo, Saifullah Paracha, have been approved for release but are still held).

Forever “enemy combatants”

Mansoor and I also discussed the plight of prisoners after their release from Guantánamo, which affects not only Mansoor himself — hence the need for this fundraiser — but also every prisoner released from Guantánamo.

When I promoted this event last week, I noted how, as the Guardian explained in an interview with Mansoor in August, in Serbia “he is still considered a terrorist, and his ambitions have been thwarted. He has found it hard to make friends because people fear associating with him; a tabloid ran a two-page spread calling him a terrorist, and his acquaintances have undergone interrogation just for knowing him. He can’t get a job. He can’t leave the country, or drive. He has no healthcare. His relationship with a woman he loved ended after he was denied a travel document to visit her.”

The brutal truth, however, is that all former prisoners remain tainted by Guantánamo, as “enemy combatants” who can be denied passports, prevented from traveling, and harassed in all kinds of ways, with no legal recourse to challenge these infringements of their liberty, because they are arbitrary, and because no legally binding documents exist anywhere to codify their rights as human beings.

As Mansoor and I discussed, although some repatriated former prisoners have been allowed to resume their lives without too much interference, and some of those resettled in third countries have also fared well (typically, those resettled in western European countries, or in Gulf countries like Oman), far too many others have continued to suffer from arbitrary harassment and other indignities. The most alarming examples are the men resettled in the UAE between 2015 and 2017 (including 18 Yemenis and a Russian), who were told they would be rehabilitated and allowed to resume their lives, but who, instead, ended up imprisoned in circumstances that were at least as bad as what they left behind in Guantánamo.

The Russian, Ravil Mingazov, is still there, threatened with forcible repatriation to Russia, even though he faces torture or other abusive treatment if he is sent home, while the Yemenis have all been forcibly repatriated to Yemen in recent months. Just last month, we learned that one of these men, suffering from serious mental health problems, had been seized at a Houthi checkpoint in Sana’a and is being held in an undisclosed location, and just before last Thursday’s event Mansoor also publicized the fact that two other returnees from the UAE have been kidnapped, and their whereabouts are unknown.

The US has completely failed to adequately monitor the post-release circumstances of these men, and of others, in cases too numerous to list here, but what all of these stories point to is the need for there to be some body that calls for the US government to be held accountable. It is my intention to set up such a body in the near future, to compile case studies, and to publicize them, with the ultimate aim of getting the US to stop labeling those who have been held at Guantánamo as “enemy combatants,” and to restore their rights as human beings.

I have no illusions that this will be anything other than a long uphill struggle, but I also have no doubt that it is a necessary project, with a long-term aim of securing official apologies and reparations. If this is something that interests you — and I’m particularly interested in hearing from fundraisers, administrators, filmmakers and legal advisers — then please get in touch.

And in the meantime, if you can, help one of these former prisoners by making a donation to Mansoor. He deserves your support.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.50).

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the struggle for housing justice — and against environmental destruction — continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

2 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, featuring the video of “Life After Guantanamo,” an online discussion between myself and former prisoner Mansoor Adayfi, hosted by the Justice for Muslims Collective, which took place last week, and was intended primarily as a fundraiser for Mansoor, whose compelling memoir, “Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantanamo,” was published in August.

    We discussed resistance at Guantanamo, the deaths of prisoners, art classes, and how the “taint” of Guantanamo haunts former prisoners, and is an ongoing part of the dehumanization process established at the prison nearly 20 years ago.

    It is also an injustice that I hope to address through establishing a new organization aimed at removing the “enemy combatant” stigma, and, ultimately, holding the US to account for the fundamental lawlessness of Guantanamo.

    Here’s the link to the fundraiser for Mansoor (which closes in two days’ time): https://www.facebook.com/donate/1971255753022912/

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    For a Spanish version of this article, via the World Can’t Wait’s Spanish website, see ‘Vídeo: Discutí Resistencia y creatividad en Guantánamo y el sufrimiento de ex detenidos con Mansoor Adayfi’: http://www.worldcantwait-la.com/worthington-video-discuti-resistencia-creatividad-gitmo-y-sufrimiento.htm

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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